Pennsylvania officials suddenly revoked a number of business waivers after critics demanded transparency from Gov. Tom Wolf (D) regarding the criteria used in granting exemptions to “non-life essential” businesses, allowing them to operate during his stringent lockdown orders, PennLive revealed on Wednesday.
Wolf, alongside Health Secretary Rachel Levine, shut down all non-life essential businesses in mid-March, but the governor followed up with a short-lived waiver program, which allowed nonessential businesses to apply for the right to operate, even under the lockdown orders. Secrecy shrouded what amounted to a shadowy process, piquing the interest of GOP lawmakers, who subpoenaed additional information regarding the criteria used to determine which businesses could operate and which had to remain closed.
The Department of Community and Economic Development did not provide explicit details, instead releasing a list Friday containing the businesses that were granted requests, totaling 6,123.
Several business owners have indicated they received a waiver, which the government officials suddenly revoked without warning — an action that appeared to occur right before the administration’s release of the list of recipients.
“Just hours before the administration disclosed the first details about which businesses received waivers, state officials were still revoking exemptions without explanation, according to several interviews with business owners,” PennLive reported.
Tiffany Kuhn was one of those individuals. She received an email from Wolf’s administration Thursday evening, informing her that her waiver — allowing her to operate her mobile notary business — had been rescinded. She suspected that the decision had something to do with a complaint from a competitor.
“My first thought was, someone turned on me,” she said.
Spotlight PA also found that other businesses appeared to receive similar emails on Thursday evening, while others received the news the following day.
Officials granted Micah Durling, who owns a photography business, a waiver March 25, allowing him to operate his business. However, they ultimately revoked the waiver:
The Lancaster County company, which he owns with his wife, specializes in pictures for real estate listings. The couple had adjusted to a new way of working: wearing gloves and masks, wiping down their equipment after shoots, and only taking pictures when no one was home.
Then, on Monday afternoon, they received an email from the state, abruptly revoking the waiver without explanation. The reversal came a few days after a competitor who had not received a waiver began asking about the discrepancy, Durling said.
“It was crushing,” he told Spotlight PA. “This frankly blindsided us.”
The department attributed the decisions to “a quality control review process,” which resulted in officials revoking exemptions for 69 businesses previously awarded the waivers.
“During that process, which is ongoing, we are rescinding waivers that were issued in error or do not meet the appropriate criteria,” Casey Smith, a spokesperson for the Department of Community and Economic Development, said, according to PennLive.
Smith’s explanation has done little to satisfy critics, as the administration has yet to release the criteria officials used to determine eligibility.
Pennsylvania attorney Wally Zimolong filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the businesses that were denied the waiver and told Breitbart News on Saturday that the administration’s release of the list “only makes it worse.” He explained that some businesses that were denied waivers happened to be “identical” to businesses located just miles away.
“These were competitors,” he told Breitbart News.
Wolf and his administration have yet to address the discrepancies or provide the details of the criteria used in the controversial business waiver process. All the while, Wolf is keeping several counties in the most restrictive red phase of reopening, barring nonessential business operations. Wolf has extended his stringent lockdown orders — for counties remaining in the red phase — to June 4.